Unsticking the Velcro Dog
For many dog agility beginners there is a problem that comes up rather early in training especially for shy dogs or those that were started in basic obedience. This is affectionately known as the Velcro Dog. This is a dog that has either been conditioned to stay close to the handler’s side or lacks the confidence to leave their owner’s side. It really doesn’t matter why your dog is insecure about taking an obstacle or line without you being close, it is your job to teach and instill that confidence in your dog. After all, this is the heart of dog agility, the building of a strong team based on trust and confidence. So here are some exercises you can do to help unstick your Velcro Dog.
It all starts with proofing your dog’s obstacle performance. Once your dog is performing an obstacle with consistency you need to start proofing that obstacle and one of the easiest ways to start is by changing your position before, during and after your dog commits to the obstacle. You can start by simply placing your dog at the obstacle and move further away laterally before asking them to take the obstacle. Then you can start moving at an angle behind and ahead of the dog before asking for the obstacle. When your dog is comfortable with that you can add movement such as a front or rear cross while your dog is performing the obstacle. And finally moving away from the obstacle as if to direct to another obstacle first directly in front of the obstacle then fading to the sides. If at any point the dog refuses the obstacle or pulls off it, you have moved to far too fast.
You also need to proof their obstacle understanding through obstacle discrimination. Placing other obstacles close by as traps to help solidify in your dog’s mind what each obstacle is and your cues for taking the correct obstacle. Again, keeping the distance close and handling obvious such as standing right next to the desired obstacle and then building your distance away and putting traps closer. The more confident your dog is with the obstacles the easier it will be for him to perform them without you close by.
Another great way to increase distance is the simple use of wing jump standards. Without any height to the jump you can run past forcing your dog to put distance between you and the jump. You can also send the dog around a single pole and then increase distance to the pole and different angles as in the previous example. Then to increase difficulty you can add a wing standard to block their sight of you for a brief moment. When you add the wing be sure to decrease your distance from your dog. You can increase the time out of sight by adding another wing standard.
Playing games such as fetching a toy over an obstacle will help drive a dog ahead of you as will setting target plates with treats on them. Start with short distances and build both the distance to the obstacle and your distance from the dog before the send out. Be sure to only increase one at a time and make the increases only when the dog is comfortable at the current distance.
You will also need to work on directional controls with your dog during this process. Go left, go right, here, out as well as obstacle name/cues need to be solid as your dog’s distance increases. And your timing needs to get ahead of your dog as well so they know where they will be going.
Confidence is the key to helping your dog perform on their own. They need to know the obstacle, be able to perform it correctly and be able to take it when asked. Then you can build your distance and your dog will build confidence in themselves and your direction.